By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
Most travellers are no longer content with sight-seeing and experiencing major tourist attractions in big cities. As a result, new and niche avenues for tourism have been explored and most of these have blossomed, leading to diversification in the tourism industry.
The tourism industry has been on an upswing since the past three decades. The major driver for this trend is globalisation, which has made borders more porous and reduced red-tapism in domestic travel, consequently easing movement of people. Correspondingly, air, rail and road travel has also become more affordable, even as increasing disposable incomes of people in developed and developing countries has encouraged them to travel as a mode of leisure. These factors have helped the industry register strong growth rates that have endured despite several global and localised economic crises in the said time period.
However, the industry has also faced challenges as a result of consumer fatigue. Most travellers are no longer content with sight-seeing and experiencing major tourist attractions in big cities. As a result, new and niche avenues for tourism have been explored and most of these have blossomed, leading to diversification in the tourism industry. Rural tourism has emerged as once such niche to provide a unique experience to travellers, and the most sought segment within this niche is agritourism. Furthermore, agritourism benefits local communities in a variety of ways, which has led developing countries to adopt agritourism with vigour and invest heavily in agritourism market research.
Agritourism differs from rural tourism in that it specifically targets the agricultural aspects of a rural tourist destination, whereas rural tourism encompasses the cultural and social aspects of rural life such as the local arts, heritage, music and cuisine of a particular village or region. As a result, the agritourism market has been able to grow into an independent and sustainable market riding on the agritourism industry’s strength. This has been possible since agritourism revenue is generated separately despite the strong interdependency between the rural and agritourism industries. This has helped rural economies in a variety of ways, which becomes especially significant given the variables rural economies are subjected to; this includes dependency on weather patterns, market factors influencing pricing of agricultural produce, unpredictably changing cropping patterns due to climate change and global warming, etc.
The most obvious of the several agritourism benefits is in the form of direct agritourism revenue, which helps crop and horticulture farmers by giving them an additional source of revenue. This revenue has become vital to rural communities that have invested in agritourism in recent years since it has helped them hedge against traditional agricultural produce markets, where they were often forced to sell their produce at market-dictated prices that they have no control over. Furthermore, certain agritourism enterprises have also been able to emerge as niche brands that now compete with established food processing companies. Such enterprises hold an edge in terms of reduced chemical content and environment friendliness of their products.
Another key agritourism benefit has come in the form of generating local employment through agritourism enterprises and creating durable supply chains within the local community. Agriculture is a largely seasonal occupation with sowing and harvesting being the most labour-intensive periods. As a result, most people involved in agriculture also act as migrant labourers in major cities; this trend is especially true for the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In most cases, revenue earned through farmers’ status as migrant labourers has become a cornerstone of the livelihood of rural communities. However, this has also led to infrastructural and social strain in many developing countries as accommodating a growing number of migrant labourers poses a plethora of problems. As a result, local employment generated from agritourism can benefit the local population as well as countries at large by reducing the urban drift.
With technological advancements in recent years, rural employment has become a major challenge in several countries as the agrarian workforce requirements per acreage have reduced due to increasing incorporation of machinery. This problem is acute in developing countries which are experiencing a consistent growth in their rural populations. The logical solution to this problem is skill development and diversion of labour However, a major roadblock to this solution comes in the form of lack of access to quality education. This limitation is not only in terms of school infrastructure or availability of teachers, but also arises due to limited exposure available to rural children. The agritourism industry has the potential to improve this scenario in both these parameters, firstly by providing the necessary financial fillip to build the necessary education infrastructure and enhance instructor capability, and secondly by giving children first-hand exposure to different cultures, people, belief systems and ways of life.
The ability of the agritourism industry to increase social cohesion in rural communities is another hidden benefit. This is since it is well understood that agritourism revenue can be greatly enhanced when the different people in a village or community work together in the overall rural tourism industry. This tendency to bring people together can help bridge divides that are often found in multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural communities and reduce inherent animosity. Furthermore, women empowerment is also an area that reaps dividends from rural tourism and agritourism since women are often at the forefront of rural activities. Traditionally, women could not use this to their advantage since the rural economy was dependent on the community’s interactions outside their villages. However, with the economic movement coming from within villages, women have the advantage of working from their comfort zones.
Agritourism benefits open several new vistas for rural communities. The agritourism industry also helps developing countries raise the economic profile of rural areas that were traditionally dependent on agriculture alone and hence at the mercy of elements beyond control. Furthermore, it also helps these countries control the urban bulge that stains infrastructure, besides increasing the quality of education and helping in eventual diversification of labour. Meanwhile, it can be said with near certainty that tourism as an industry will grow along with all its sub-segments. As a result, the growing adoption of agritourism by more countries and rural communities is inevitable. Additionally, further fragmentation of the agritourism industry is also likely; this is already being observed in the form of growing trends such as farm agritourism, where tourists visit farms that grow grapes, spices and other cash crops, and ranch agritourism, where farm animals are the primary attraction.